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Reviews: Hagen Quartett 30

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Reviews: 3
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Site review by Polly Nomial August 4, 2011
Performance:   Sonics:  
A wonderful recital from a highly regarded quartet.

As part of an answer in the interview contained in the booklet, the following summarises the Hagen's approach to playing music from the Classical era: "Paradox (sic) though it may seem, looking back in time leads to a more modern result when one processes this as an experience." One couldn't agree more nor better summarize why looking back helps one look forward.

This can be heard throughout the opening Beethoven quartet, from the dramatically attacked first chord and more focussed tone to the varying amounts of vibrato employed in every movement so that it too becomes the ornament that texts of the time describe. Some quintessentially "modern" features remain part of their playing style, most noticeably the prominent (but not as much as one might hear in a Mahler symphony) portamento that are employed in melodic and accompanying figures alike. Tempo choices are conventional - neither daringly fast (except for the Scherzo) nor slow but their dynamic range is far wider than usual from modern instrument ensembles in this repertoire to thrilling and dramatic effect. An exceptional account.

The Mozart, one of his "10 great quartets", is given a similarly dedicated and intense account (although by the very nature of the work, necessarily toned down a few notches from the Beethoven!) that is thoroughly modern in (parts) a HIP way. The Webern, although radically different in respect of the compositional language, is treated in exactly the same way as the Beethoven (allowing the very different demands made on the players). In short - this is a fabulous disc.

The sound, recorded in the Siemens-Villa Berlin, is extraordinarily life-like; one feels that they are really in the room and that one could reach out and touch the instruments/players.

Fantastic - easily the finest quartet recital on SACD in every respect.

Copyright © 2011 John Broggio and SA-CD.net

Review by JJ June 11, 2011 (3 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
The famous Hagen Quartet (Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt, Veronika Hagen, Clemens Hagen) invites us here to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of their formation with a program of the Quartet Op.59/2 “Razumowsky” by Beethoven, the Quartet K.428 by Mozart, the Five Pieces Op.5 and the Bagatelles Op.9 by Webern. Music escapes from the bows with lucidity, and our enthusiasm grows in light of the history of this exceptional quartet. For, as the liner notes point out: “Working with musical personalities such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt and György Kurtag has been as important for the Hagen Quarten as working with musicians such as Maurizio Pollini, Mitsuko Uchida, Krystian Zimerman, Heinrich Schiff or Jörg Widmann. The concert repertory and the discography of the quartet are composed of intelligent and charming combinations of work which, from Haydn to Kurtag, cover all the music for the string quartet.” Here then for the first time in multicanal and in stereo is the Hagen Quartet, for an essential homage paid to these exceptional musicians.

Jean-Jacques Millo
Translation Lawrence Schulman

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Review by Polarius T October 30, 2011 (6 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is simply a stupendous release. For anyone accustomed to hearing this repertory through analog-era recordings, it will take some time to get one's ears adjusted to hearing all the multiple levels of finesse, power, and variety that this quartet is capable of bringing out in the music.

The Hagens' technical skills level is awesome, very probably unmatched today (or even in history) (with the possible exception of the Ardittis), and nowhere else have I heard their abilities being put to such revelatory and exciting use as here. At the same time, their interpretive learning curve has been really remarkable, too (I wasn't too taken by their technically impressive but otherwise rather unengaging Bartok, for instance, or equally engrossed by some of their earlier Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert), and here they combine their capability for extreme tonal, timbral, and dynamic variegation with a seemingly total understanding of the inner nature of the works they play, their character and their meaning. This is simply the finest and by far the most impressive Mozart quartet playing I have heard, and I would not hesitate to say the same about the Beethoven, too, were it not for my fondness for the different kind of refinement and the more immediately warm, "old-world" humanity that the Italians embodied to the core (in, e.g., Beethoven: String Quartets Op. 18 No. 6, Op. 59 No. 1 - Quartetto Italiano, Beethoven: String Quartets Op. 59 Nos. 2 & 3 - Quartetto Italiano, and Haydn, Beethoven: String Quartets - Quartetto Italiano).

As if that weren't enough, the highlight of the disc is nevertheless the Hagen's Webern. It is there where their best qualities really come to the fore. The masterly executed silences and pauses, the infinite gradations of tone, texture, and phrasing that the players, both individually and as an ensemble, bring to the service of these pieces, and the smooth transitions between the notes, pauses, figures, gestures, and contrasts that galvanize it all into a complete, gorgeously flowing whole, are just astonishing; I have never heard the like of it up until now. The infinitesimally accurate micro shadings alone leave you sitting at the edge of your chair with a new kind of consciousness of the work being performed. With this recording, the Hagens will win many new friends for the composer -- and perhaps for the Second Viennese School in general by tearing down many prejudices -- but let's hope there is still more to come (in the booklet notes, there is some indication of a more long-lasting relationship established between the quartet and the label). I never thought it would happen in this life, but the LaSalle will now be taken the place of honor they have for me forever and all by themselves occupied in this repertory.

On this evidence alone I'm ready to proclaim the Hagens the greatest currently active chamber music group (and one of the very finest in the known history). If all this sounds like gushing, it's for good reasons which you should discover yourself if at all you are interested in hearing how fabulous modern-day quartet playing can really be. The Hagens might change your perception not just of what can be attained, performance-wise, with this form of classical music, but also of parts of the literature that you thought you were well familiar already.

To cap it all, the recording itself is excellent and reveals all the nuances of playing that are necessary for properly comprehending this music, without sounding too close-up, oversized, or dry (it's a 5.0 recording, which even more makes me regret not having more than a stereo setup).

My SACD release of the season thus far and, together with Abbado’s Brandenburgs, the most deeply satisfying overall listening experience I have had all year. Both show the way forward for music-making today and, while serving as demonstrations of the rather startling skills and abilities that committed musicians in our time can in the right kind of settings lend for a good cause, in the process take something like a qualitative leap forward in performance practice.

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